By Keith Lacey
Former Town of Oliver mayor Pat Hampson and political neophyte Aimee Grice, who has never ran for any political office, have announced their intentions to seek the nomination in Oliver’s upcoming byelection.
Late last week, Hampson and Grice announced they would be seeking the position on town council created when veteran councillor Jack Bennest announced three weeks ago he was stepping down as the longest-serving (17 years) municipal councillor in the South Okanagan.
The byelection will be held on Saturday, Dec. 2. Hampson, a former fire chief in Squamish, served as mayor of Oliver for one term (2008-2011) after serving two full terms as a town councillor.
He was defeated by current Mayor Ron Hovanes in the 2011 municipal election.
Grice, a mother of two young children and the current marketing and promotions manager of the Frank Venables Theatre at Southern Okanagan Secondary School, said she had thought about getting involved in municipal politics for some time and felt the timing was perfect after Bennest announced he was stepping down.
Hampson, who made headlines a month ago when he celebrated his 75th birthday by parachuting out of an airplane for the first time, said the opening of the new Coast Hotel in Oliver is the biggest reason he’s decided to consider a return to municipal politics.
“Approving this hotel, to me, is a real indication this is a town ready to move ahead,” said Hampson, who was born in England, but has called Canada and British Columbia home since 1956. “We need progress, we need change and we need development if this town is going to move forward.
“I realize there are some people who are against this hotel and any kind of major development, especially at a popular campground, but I believe this town was on the verge of becoming stagnant and potentially a backwater in the Okanagan.”
Not only will this hotel create much-needed jobs during construction and once it’s built and open for business, but it’s going to result in other hotels and major businesses taking a look at Oliver as a place to expand, said Hampson.
The opening of the Okanagan Correctional Centre and the Area 27 racetrack have provided tremendous positive economic benefits to the community, and the new, 80-room hotel will continue this positive trend in economic development, he said.
“Businesses are going to look at Oliver and say this is a nice place and we can open a business at a good price and make a profit here,” he said. “Because of this hotel, other businesses are going to want to come here and I want to be part of this renewed commitment to economic development.”
When he worked for the fire department in Squamish – a job he held from 1983 until 2000 – a new hotel opened in that small community and resulted in a massive economic boost that continues to this day, said Hampson.
“The opening of that first hotel in Squamish literally changed that community forever,” he said. “That was the fire that ignited a huge influx in development in that beautiful community that continues to this day. I can see the same thing happening in Oliver.”
With events like the Half Corked Marathon, Freak’n Farmer, Festival of the Grape, major ball tournaments, a vibrant wine touring industry, two world-class golf courses and Oliver’s designation as The Wine Capital of Canada, Hampson is confident the new hotel “is going to be packed” virtually every day once it opens in the spring of 2018.
“All of these amenities are sensational drawing cards, but it’s very unfortunate almost all of the people we attract to Oliver end up staying in accommodations in Osoyoos,” he said. “That will all change with the opening of this hotel.”
Hampson said he enjoyed working with Hovanes and other members of the current council in the past.
“This is an open-minded, progressive council and I’m definitely excited about the opportunity of working with them should I be successful in winning the seat,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed my nine years on Oliver town council and my three years as mayor, but I needed a break after being unsuccessful in my second run as mayor.”
Hampson currently represents Oliver as a director on the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation, which is responsible for fundraising on behalf of Oliver, Princeton, Osoyoos and Penticton hospitals.
Hampson said the support of his wife Linda, who recently celebrated 46 years of marriage, was crucial in helping him decide to run again.
“We’re a team and she’s my partner … and she knows how much of my time will be taken up should I return to council,” he said. “When she gave me the thumbs up, that’s when I knew my decision to run was final.”
Grice, who is originally from Calgary and moved to Oliver 11 years ago, said the timing is right for her first foray into municipal politics.
She had thought about running in the 2014 municipal election, but her two daughters were very young and she didn’t have the time, she said.
When Bennest announced he was stepping down, “I knew I had to run,” she said.
Grice said her ability to “listen to others” and represent the interests of her constituents is her strongest asset.
“I may have an opinion on a certain subject, but it will be my duty to listen to the people I represent and bring their voice to the council table,” she said. “It’s my belief that too many people feel too far removed from the process, so it will be my job to get their voices heard by this community’s leaders.”
Grice, who is actively involved in the local arts community, said having a new voice on council will appeal to a lot of younger voters.
Her husband Tavis and two daughters have been fully supportive of her decision to run for council and she’s looking forward to running a campaign that focuses on meeting as many Oliver residents as she possibly can over the next several weeks and listening to their concerns.
Grice said she is also supportive of council’s decision to support the construction of a new hotel in town, however, she wishes the site would not have resulted in the closure of the popular Centennial RV Park.
“But that was the only site considered by the developer, so it didn’t leave council with many options,” she said.
Grice said she and her family love their life in Oliver and running for municipal office would provide her with the opportunity to make a positive difference in this town for many years to come.
Anyone else considering running in the byelection must declare their intentions before end of business on Friday, Oct. 27. An advance poll will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 22.